September 21, 2016

Community Responds To Student’s Death With Deep Grief, Support

Owen Bardzilowski, 14-year-old ninth grader at Princeton High School who took his own life at his family’s home on Henry Street last Thursday, has been remembered and mourned by many different people in many different ways during the past week.

Owen’s father Joe stated on Facebook Saturday, “The outpouring of love from our friends, our family, and our community have been comforting for us.” Mr. Bardzilowski emphasized the importance of openness and raising awareness in response to his son’s death. “I have no words,” he wrote, “But if you need to express your grief quietly or publicly or if you just want to hug one of Owen’s family members, we are not being shy or hiding from this tragedy. We as a community need to get our heads around this and do whatever we can to raise awareness.”

Echoing Mr. Bardzilowski’s thoughts, HiTops, specializing in adolescent health, and Good Grief, a center for children’s bereavement, yesterday held an “Open Door” at Hi Tops headquarters on Wiggins Street for teens to come “for support and connection.”

Counselors from both organizations were available. According to their websites, HiTops is “here to help ensure that our community’s young people have the information, tools, and resources they need to thrive and grow,” and Good Grief is “dedicated to the emotional and physical health of children, teens and families after the death of a loved one.”

Bill Schofield, interim executive director of HiTops, stated, “Owen’s death has shaken the community in a lot of different ways.” Describing “a strong outpouring of support,” he added that HiTops has recently become more active at times of crisis. They held an “Open Door” event following the Orlando terrorist shootings last June.

Mr. Schofield praised the Princeton Schools’ work in counseling students and said that HiTops’ goal is “to provide a safe space and an avenue for young people to express their thoughts and feelings.”

Joseph Primo, CEO of Good Grief, added, “The death of a peer and friend can be a time of confusion, fear, and a host of other emotions that teens may not have yet confronted. Good Grief and HiTops are providing a safe place for the community to gather and to share, ask the tough questions and learn from each other.

“In our work at Good Grief, this open engagement is the best form of preventing unhealthy choices during hard and painful times. When we come together as a community and support each other we are better able to support Owen’s parents and siblings, who face a long road and need us to step up and be with them.”

At Princeton High School (PHS), teachers shared the news of Owen’s death with students in classrooms last Thursday morning, and guidance counselors and other trained professionals have been available throughout the school and across the district to provide support for students and adults during the past week.

In a note to the school community last Thursday, Superintendent Steve Cochrane said, “The entire district mourns this loss, and we recognize that many of our students may be affected by it. We encourage parents to contact our schools if they feel their child may be especially affected and could use additional support.” Mr. Cochrane’s letter also mentioned local community resources, including Trinity Counseling Service, Princeton Psychological Center, LLC, Good Grief, and Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

PHS principal Gary Snyder expressed the deep sorrow felt throughout the community and the School’s efforts to be supportive of students and adults. He explained that, in addition to counselors on hand at PHS, there had been help from John Witherspoon Middle School counselors, teachers, and nurses, who know many of the 9th graders. Community counselors from Corner House and other school districts as well as local clergy have also come in to help the students and faculty.

Guidance counselors and the school psychologist will be going into 9th grade classes this Thursday to talk with students, and next Wednesday, September 28, there will be a special evening presentation and forum, led by George Scott from the Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth, where parents and other adults can get information and ask questions about traumatic loss.